Ava is 23 years old. She’s a busy girl: just sixteen months out of college, she is the head of a middle school science department and one of two science teachers serving all three grade levels on her campus. Although her work as an educator consumes much of her life, she also plays soccer for an all-city women’s league, runs regularly, raises a dog, holds Saturday morning science tutorials, and participates in a book club.

Somewhere in between, she wants to conceive her first child by the time she’s 27.

That means that if she wants at least one and a half years of marriage prior to a pregnancy, she’ll need to walk down the aisle at 25. Which means that, if she wants to date the man of her dreams for at least a year or two before the big hitch, then she needs to meet him—oh, well… right about NOW.

My friends and I are aging quickly, and we’ve only begun to realize the urgency of our dating situations. Oddly enough, the physical dating aspect of dating isn’t quite as pressing as its eventual extension: the children we want.

Four days ago, I walked out of a boba tea café after a few hours of post-work-hours work. I saw a young couple sitting on the rear edge of an open-bed pick-up truck, and, unlike the Power Points and planning that had taken hold of my evening, relaxation and calm had permeated theirs. These sensations were palatable to me, a distant observer, despite (or perhaps because of) where their attention was turned: their child. Indeed, the tumult and unpredictability of child-rearing was nowhere to be found, as an aura of comfort and awe embraced the trio. As the child—no more than two years old—played atop the truck’s empty bed, the couple looked at each other for a moment, silently, as if to say with just their eyes: Look—we created this together. This is the wonder of life.

It was then that I cemented the gravity of the matter, of dating, relationships, and love. While not everyone makes it a life-long goal to start a family (biologically or otherwise), many people do. The choices we make as to who, what, where, when, why, and how we flirt with others begin a domino effect that could—inevitably—lead to the creation of a family. As fun, light, and innocent as eye contact in a dimly-lit room may seem, it may be that same look that changes a lifetime, not just for two people, but also for—as serious and dire as it may be to name them—the unborn.

This introduces a young adult dilemma, fodder, if you will, for a quarter-life crisis: If we know that our actions as daters have an eventual end-product attached, then should we focus on career aspirations, thereby creating solid foundations to support ourselves and a future relationship or family? Or should we sacrifice part of that desire for stability in order to search for and secure the partner with whom we can root the life of primogeniture and (perhaps) a few siblings? A more complex question: How can we successfully juggle the two competing interests with limited amounts of energy and time?

Two co-workers of mine, Emma and A.C., also 23 years old, may have found an answer to the third question. The two of them have been dating for almost a year now. Their love blossomed after Emma had a bad day, and A.C., simply a friend at the time, came over to make sure she was doing okay. The tears led to hugs, and the hugs led to history. Since then, they’ve met each other’s families, attended the weddings of relatives, and practically live together. Two weeks ago, A.C.’s car died for the umpteenth time, and instead of investing in a mechanic’s temporary fixes, he decided that it was time to get a new car. While purchasing a new vehicle is, in itself, an enormous move, he pushed its intensity up a notch: they discussed A.C.’s new car as their new car. At the age of 23, they wondered: what will be best for us? What will we need when we have cats and kids? Furthermore, Emma’s parents decided to help finance A.C.’s new car with a contracted loan. Although their one year anniversary isn’t for another four weeks, Emma and A.C., still in the shadow of their twenty-first birthdays, are thinking about and working towards the future—their future. As rushed as that may seem for a young, intelligent, and urban couple, they’ve chosen to create stability in light of their relationship instead of having stability be separate from them and work for someone; for Emma and A.C., a solid foundation for the future is created together.

What makes it easier for them to come to that conclusion, though, is that they’ve already found each other. They can think about a child and cats and cars because they don’t have to think about finding an other. Ava can’t think of those ends without the means to that end.

I am in the same boat. I’m a twenty-something salaried professional. Single. Hard-working. Seeking to re-enter school for a Master’s and PhD within the next two years, for a doctorate degree by the time I hit 30. Although I have the rest of my life in front of me, I, too, have a deadline I want to meet: at 30, I want to adopt a child because I don’t want to be an old-fogey father.

Fortunately, maybe my homosexuality provides a loophole to having to deal with a dilemma like Ava’s. I can picture myself, at the time of adoption, still single. Between research, teaching, work, and somehow finding time to breathe, I don’t know if my energy and time will be best put into dating during those five years. Moreover, I don’t know if the year or so after I finish defending my dissertation will possess enough fated magic to help me find the perfect parent for the child I know I want. I foresee, then, putting dating on the backburner. I can do that. I don’t have to create a child with another—I just have to raise one.

My priority, then: getting me off the ground so that I can be the best parent I can be when I get there. My partner will just have to follow. Who would’ve thought that, with all the complications and urges surrounding dating, he’d be the least urgent thing?

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